Archive for the 'Jerusalem' Category

18
Jul
10

Survival of the nicest? – The strange case of George R. Price.


As we abjure from physical pleasures for 25 hours this Tisha B’Av, fasting, mourning, deep in contemplative prayer, reading the Kinot and the Book of Lamentations (Eicha), commemorating the destruction of the First and Second Temples and other calamities that befell the Jews, I give you the strange case of George R. Price.

Several weeks ago, I caught the tail end of an NPR (820 am on the radio dial) segment. The piece described George R. Price- physical chemist, population geneticist, science journalist, mathematical and theoretical biologist, a quirky eccentric genius.  He worked on the Manhattan Project, acted as consultant on graphic data processing for IBM, and even worked as a cancer research assistant.

George R. Price

George Price was also a man obsessed with the apparent altruism found in nature (a term coined by August Comte) and its negation drawn from the Darwinian Theory of natural selection and the survival of the fittest. (Don’t leave just yet, there is a point drawn from the reference.) Unlike reciprocal symbiotic relationships typified by the primate behavior of ‘you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours’, biological altruism refers to cases in nature where life forms as divergent as bacteria and dolphins exhibit behaviors analogous to kindness and sacrifice for the greater good. The honey bee, for example, may perform 100 times or more a ‘waggle dance’ -a pin-pointing signal for beehive members to spot food and new nesting sites. Essential for the colony’s survival, it does not directly benefit the waggle dancer worker bee. There are cooperative behaviors found in social insects like bees, wasps and ants; for example, sterile females in the colonies assist reproducing females with their offspring.  The loud squawk of the ‘watchman’ bird alerts other birds to the approach of predators like hawks, giving the flock time to fly off, while drawing the attention of the prey to itself. Wolves, lions and other animals risk their lives hunting prey, bringing back food for other members of their pack. The pelican will provide fish for blind pelicans within their flock. “The Arabian babblers (small birds) dance and take baths together, offer themselves gifts, clean themselves, and sometimes enter into conflict with each other for the privilege of helping another babbler. They may also feed their counterparts” (wiki) Dogs and other ‘sympathetic’ creatures often adopt strays or orphaned animals outside their species. Dolphins support sick or injured animals, swimming under them for hours at a time, pushing them to the surface so they can breathe. Darwin knew of these altruistic behaviors and it is said to have vexed him. Others came up with game theories (see John von Neumann, Oskar Morgenstern, John Maynard Smith) that mathematically tried to quantify, rationalize and find equilibrium (see Nash equilibrium) to behaviors in humans and in animals in which one individual benefits at another’s expense.

George Price, expanded on game theory, and spent years trying to come up with a mathematical equation to express altruistic behavior in nature and how such traits are genetically passed on. Eventually he did, and it became known as the Price Equation. The ability to quantify such an equation actually depressed George Price, for it meant that altruism was now a quantifiable, pre-determined, not chance or willed action, but rather inevitable. He abandoned his deep-seated atheism, coming to believe that it was beyond coincidence, but rather an act of Divine intervention, that led him to such a highly improbable equation.  He obsessively spent his remaining days trying to prove that the human spirit was greater than any random probability or equation; helping the poor, giving all his possessions to street beggars and drunks.  The depletion of his funds to aid the needy, the cruel actions of others, along with his physical/emotional deterioration, resulted in the tragic taking of his own life in 1975.

What struck me so strongly in all of this, was how a heretofore atheist came to see the ‘spirit’ of man to have the powers to dominate above all scientific reason or postulate. That in spite of the pre-programmed altruism in nature, such a brilliant mind could come to cherish the notion of a human spirit capable of willful good and selfless kindness toward others as such a strong driver that man can free himself from his animalistic, limited, determined nature and spirit the cause of something higher than himself.

The Jewish concept of sympathetic altruism whether reciprocal in nature or not is one of the cornerstones of the Jewish people.  The reward system and reciprocal benefits of the world to come is secondary to the obligation of each Jew to act for the well-being of his fellow Jew.  “Kol Yisroel arevim ze laze”.  We are intertwined, arms and legs of the same tree trunk rooted to His will and divine Torah. What affects one affects us all. We are responsible for one another and are obligated in demonstrating kindness and sympathy toward our fellow man, even at the expense of ourselves or possessions.  If altruism is evident in animal behaviors, what can the collective conscious collaboration of man accomplish if his actions and goals are acclimatized for the greater good?

Absorbed in the minutia of our lives and practices, we may become misdirected; missing emotional, physical, spiritual cues of others in our midst or beyond our normal perimeters. The jig of quantifiable causes, ‘meaningful’ actions, or pursuit of golden idols and placards often distracts us. Our ‘on loan’ possessions, tools and talents are by our choosing capable of manifesting sweet harmonics of creation of the highest human endeavors. May we never lose sight of our altruistic capabilities and may we collectively rebuild a binyan adei ad bimhera biyamenu.

SYR

29
Jun
10

The Three Weeks


Today is the 17th day of the month of Tammuz, in the Hebrew calendar. Today marks the start of the three weeks, which commemorate a slew of calamities in the history of the Jewish people starting with the Romans breaching the walls surrounding Jerusalem. These three weeks end on the 9th day of Av - Tisha b’Av – with the last nine days representing the final assault on the Kingdom of Judea’s capital and the burning down of the Temple. On the 9th, both the First and the Second Temples in Jerusalem were destroyed. Many other calamities throughout the lands of Europe befell the Jews during these the weeks, as well… Today, when the Jewish people are once again living in their own independent, sovereign country the lessons of Tisha b’Av still need to be learned, perhaps more so than ever before!

As long as the Jews were one – one people of one heart (am echad, belev echad) – they were invincible! When divisions, polemics and unwarranted hatred arose, when they splintered into factions, when the nation’s common goal suddenly stopped being common or even a goal… the Jews faltered. They no longer were invincible, the mightiest empires easily took them over and eventually dispersed them throughout the world. Even so, once those empires sunk in the quicksands of history, the Jews – against all odds, against all logic, against all historic precedent – did not disappear. Yes, the world repeatedly made sure their numbers were violently kept down. Many, unwilling to fight on, many tempted by the offers of the non-Jewish world, converted and became part and parcel of those who could potentially destroy or at least harass them… But…  these no-longer-Jews were  destroyed spiritually, if not yet physically.

Excavated steps on the South side of the Temple Mount

Yet a core of Jews refused to give up their values, their national aspirations, their dreams, their history. Twice the stones (of the Temples) paid the price, when there were no stones left to destroy, when there was no kingdom of Jews to capture, the world just came up with reason after reason to kill them anyway… and yet… yet… they are still here.

In this the 21st century, the challenges are still many; the battle is still an uphill one… the odds, however, are slowly turning the Jews favor… if only… if only they manage to remember, their heritage, their history, their past and future glory…

CS

12
May
10

If I Forget Thee… A Very Personal Recollection


[Three years ago, ynetnews.com published my post on Yom Yerushalayim. Today being Yom Yerushalaim I find it appropriate to repost it here on The Kosher Scene. CS]

The Holy City

I arrived in Israel on the Friday before the Six Day War, as a volunteer. For Shabbat (Parshat Bamidbar) we stayed in Savyon, a ritzy neighborhood close to the airport and not far from Tel Aviv. The view was absolutely breathtaking! On Sunday morning I was taken to Kibbutz Lavi, strategically perched atop a hill overlooking the Tiberias-Haifa road.

Within minutes of arriving, the kibbutz secretary assigned me a room overlooking the road and gave me a quick tour. The first thing we did was to climb up to the highest point of the kibbutz, the water tower. “We are one minute away from Syria by MiG’s flight,” he said. I wasn’t sure that I wanted to hear that… not just yet. The rest of the tour just did not seem as important, in fact I barely remember it.

By the afternoon I was joined by 10 more volunteers from England, Ireland, France and the US. At dinner time, in the kibbutz’ dining room surrounded by people I’d never met before, somehow, it felt like a homecoming. For the first time in my life whether I lived in Montevideo (Uruguay – where I grew up), Buenos Aires, Richmond, VA, New York City or traveling through Europe, I felt that this land was mine. Every pebble, every grain of sand, everything was mine, MINE!!! It’s hard to describe the emotions running though me at the time, but believe me, I am reliving every single one of them as I write…

After a tasty meal in a darkened dining room (no electric lights were allowed anywhere, so as to make it harder for enemy planes to spot us, only candles and small flashlights could be used), when everyone except for the guards had gone to sleep, a horrible noise woke us. We looked out the window and realized it was coming from the road below. Some of us in the room wanted to go down the hill but the guards would not allow it. No one else in the kibbutz was outside . The road was swarming with tanks, on their way to Syria . We tried going back to sleep, but between the noise and the excitement, who could do that?

At early dawn they came for us and we were given suitable clothing, the famous Israeli kova tembel (a very distinctly shaped hat, to ward off the sun) turned out to be the most important item, a sand – colored shirt and matching shorts (both ill fitting, of course!) and boots. Then we were issued pickaxes and hoes, and told that we would be digging trenches. Easier said than done, on very rocky terrain! By the afternoon, when the heat made it almost impossible to work outdoors, we volunteers had realized very little progress against the rocks, but we all had blisters on our hands . By contrast, a group of teenage kibbutznik girls not far from us working on a similar type of ground astounded us by how much they had accomplished…

We, the mitnadvim, had transistor radios and we listened to the BBC (English was a lot easier to understand than Hebrew). At 7:00 am that Monday morning the BeeB reported Israeli war planes had attacked Egyptian military airfields and totally destroyed their Air Force before they could get airborne. Kol Yisrael – The Voice of Israel - not only reported no news but kept playing an hours’ long repertoire of Hebrew songs, many with biblical verses. There was no way to corroborate the truth of this BBC story. Suddenly, at 8:00 am, a young kibbutz wife reported – amidst tears and laughter – that she just received a call from her Air Force husband. Every single Israeli plane had returned safely to base!

At 10:00am The Voice of Israel broadcast, finally acknowledged we were at war but gave no further details and kept playing songs. Shortly thereafter there was a dog fight, directly above our heads, between an Israeli Mirage and a Syrian MiG, yet, the Israelis continued working seemingly without a care. We, the volunteers looked up fascinated, strangely without fear. The MiG was shot down after a few minutes, and an armed group from the kibbutz left in two Jeeps, they came back awhile later with a piece of the MiG’s tail and the Syrian pilot whom they held until members of the IDF picked him up.

At dinner time, we non-kibbutzniks could only talk about the news on the BBC while the kibbutznikim didn’t seem to show much concern. Then came Tuesday, June 7 – the 28th of Iyar – a day that would forever change history. By late afternoon the BBC reported that the Old City of Jerusalem was in Israeli hands, a few hours later Israel Radio played a sound bite by General Motta Gur, commanding officer of the crack paratroopers’ brigade that captured the Western Wall: “Har Habayit beyadenu – The Temple Mount is in our hands.” Soon there was barely a dry eye, happiness knew no bounds…

The full import of those simple words did not entirely hit me until Shavuot (the following week) when five of us found ourselves in Jerusalem. On what in the Diaspora would have been the second day of the festival, we walked to Har Tzyion – Mount Zion so we could get to the Kotel Hama’aravi – the Western Wall.

As we found our way through through the narrow, winding road filled with history, soaked with Jewish blood, I felt as if my ancestors were there walking with me, gently guiding me. Finally we spied the Kotel in the distance, not the sweeping plaza we have today, but a very narrow area surrounded by Arab houses and public latrines, The five of us, as if part of a Greek chorus in some ancient play, started crying unabashedly as little children would. Avinu sheBashamayim, mir zaynen in der heim, in der heim!!! -Father in Heaven, we are home, we are home!!!

As we walked back through the Old City, as we saw the narrow streets filled with bazaars, with butcher shops hung with huge cuts of meat and myriad flies buzzing on and around them, with the stench of public latrines we, every single one of us, understood why of all the beautiful cities around the world Hakadosh Baruch Hu – The Holy One, Blessed He, chose Yerushalayim, Ir Hakodesh, as His Holy City.

As I screamed with a broken voice amidst the tears “…in der heim!!! …we are home!!!” a line from the Partsisaner Song suddenly swelled up in my heart: “…s’vet a poyk ton undzer trot: mir zaynen do! …our step will beat out the message: we are here!” How apropos…

“Im eshkachech Yerushalayim, tishkach yemini! – If I forget thee, oh Jerusalem, let my right arm loose its cunning!”  Though we lived in exile for two thousands years, our prayers, our hopes, our tears, our dreams, our lives, our deaths, always spoke of Jerusalem. No Holy Day ever ended without the words: “Beshana haba beYerushalayim! – The next year in Jerusalem!” Jerusalem, Jerusalem, your Jews NEVER forgot you…

CS

13
Apr
10

Israeli Food Blogs – Part 1


I constantly look at blogs from around the world for interesting recipes. Why blogs? Because not only renowned chefs can make memorable dishes. Imagination, love of food and talent in combining the right ingredients are what is important. Israel, as the melting pot of Jewish cultures from all over the planet, has many sites dedicated to ethnic food for every taste. Today I will look at three blogs, I read religiously. The writing and the photography are quite good, the recipes at times unusual, the results always delectable!

These blogs give descriptions of places, of life, of people and recipes. They reveal at least as much about the bloggers as they do about each post’s subject.

From Sarah Melamed‘s Food Bridge:

[All photos in this post are the property of Food Bridge.]

The Cook from Agrippas Street

by Sarah on April 12, 2010

agrippas street, Jerusalem

It is on this street in Jerusalem, lined with shops, alleyways and cafes, that Aviva Ben Yoseph, was born and raised in the early years of Israel.  Her cookbook is not only a wonderful compendium of her mother’s Sephardic recipes but a tribute to her and glimpse of a culture that has all but vanished with time. The author recreates the smells and flavors emanating from her mother’s tiny kitchen and the bustle and noise from the nearby Mahane Yehuda shuk, with the help of photographs depicting life years ago and of Agrippas street and the shuk as they are now.

Mahane yehuda, Jerusalem

mahane yehuda, Jerusalem

Her recipes are an amalgam of Middle Eastern and Sephardic cooking, some of them handed down from mother to daughter, other recipes perhaps influenced by neighbors and friends.  The wandering Jews of the Middle East had a propensity to travel more than their Arab compatriots often searching for a safe haven or better economical conditions. It is for this reason that many Jewish recipes reflect their travels and deviate from the standard. In Aviva’s cookbook there are kubba recipes from Iraq, Syrian style stuffed onion and cheesy Turkish bureks.

Meatballs with bulgur

Meatballs with Bulgur

This is a recipe from Aviva’s book and an easy way to incorporate bulgur into dishes besides the ubiquitous tabouleh and fried kibbeh. Although this is a Turkish influenced recipe, the addition of coriander is definitely not Turkish as it is an herb rarely seen in Turkish cuisine and very difficult to obtain there.

500 grams [1.1 lb] ground beef or lamb

1/2 cup fine bulgur

1 onion, coarsely grated

1 cup chopped parsley

1 cup chopped coriander

2 eggs

1 tablespoon flour

1/4 teaspoon black pepper, or to taste

1/4 teaspoon hot paprika

1 teaspoon salt

Wash the bulgur and let stand for 10 minutes.

Combine all the ingredients and mix well.

With your hands create flat meatballs and fry in enough oil so it comes half way up the meatball. Fry on one side and then the other. Serve with fresh tomato and cucumber salad.

*Agrippas Street is named after the grandson of Herod the Great, the brutal King of the Jews who had a penchant for killing his wives and living an extravagant lifestyle (somewhat like Henry VIII of England), relics of which can be seen in his palace in Masada. His grandson Agrippas inherited his excessive spending habit and fled Rome to escape his debt, later to become the King of Judea. His image and namesake is preserved on ancient coins and two thousand years later, it is the main thoroughfare  to reach the Mahane Yehuda shuk in Jerusalem, the biggest shopping area in the city. I think Agrippas would have liked that.

Not only does Mrs. Melamed’s writing and photos bring the sights, the sounds and the smells of Rechov Agrippas to life – even from a afar – but they fill the reader with a strong appetite for the particular recipe.

While living in Israel, I often walked through the alleyways of Jerusalem; I’ve been on Rechov Agrippas and the above post brought back some great memories. Good food, good memories… can anyone ask for more?

CS




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